For Delhi govt and Centre, it is ‘my way or the highway’, says SC

The Supreme Court, commenting on the ongoing political tussle between Centre and Delhi government, on Thursday said for better governance, both will have to “walk hand-in-hand or at least, side-by-side”. It added that differences between the two over the exercise of administrative powers in Delhi “is almost a daily governance tussle”.

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy said: “No governance model requiring such collaboration can work if either of the two sides takes a ‘my way or the highway’ approach – which both seem to have adopted.”

It emphasised that for the process to work well, the Centre and the Delhi government will “have to walk hand-in-hand or at least, walk side-by-side for better governance”. The two powers, unfortunately, do not seek to recognise this aspect, and that is the bane of this structure requiring “collaboration and concurrence”, it added.

The bench said since the Centre and the Delhi government have not able to see eye to eye on governance issues in Delhi, this led to a spate of litigation.

“Despite repeated judicial counsel to work in tandem, this endeavour has not been successful,” it said.

Justice Kaul, who authored the judgment for the bench, said, unfortunately, it has become an endeavour to score points over the other and it is not only their concern but their duty to ensure that “peace and harmony” prevails.

“Some prior discussion and understanding could easily solve this problem instead of wasting large amounts of judicial time repeatedly arising from the failure of the two dispensations to have a broader outlook,” he said.

The bench added that the failure to do so is really a breach of their respective electoral mandate – the seven Lok Sabha seats are all held by the powers that be in the Central government, but a very different result came in the Assembly elections.

“However, we may note that the long and repeated battles between the state and the Centre appear to have cast a shadow even over the well-meaning intent of the Committee to assess peace and harmony as reflected in the Terms of Reference,” it said.

The bench said that the Delhi model of governance has a hybrid character, giving an expanded role to the Central government as compared to any other Legislative Assembly.

Noting that the arrangement worked well for many years even with different political dispensations in power in the Centre and the state, it said: “But the last few years have seen an unfortunate tussle on every aspect with the state government seeking to exercise powers as any other Assembly and the Central government unwilling to let them do so.”

Three key subjects — public order, police and land – are with the Centre while other sectors are with the Delhi government.

The top court made these observations in a judgement where it dismissed the plea of Facebook India Vice President and MD Ajit Mohan against the summonses issued to him by the Delhi Assembly’s Peace and Harmony committee for failing to appear before it as a witness in connection with February 2020 Delhi riots.

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